Sugar vs. Salt: Which One is Worse For You?

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, urbanfoodie33

If you’ve explored various nutrition plans and diets, you’ll see a common theme of eliminating various things. Maybe you’ve even tried some of them yourself or know someone who did (andcan’tstoptalkingaboutit)? Some examples of elimination:

  • Specific foods –  Whole30 (eliminates processed foods)
  • Entire food groups – Slow Carb (eliminates dairy), Vegan (eliminates animal products)
  • Macronutrients – Ketogenic diet (reduces volume of carbohydrates in diet)
  • Food additives – The 30-Day Sugar Detox (eliminates added sugar), DASH diet (lowers sodium intake)

When it comes to nutrition and elimination, there are two food additives that are regularly in the spotlight and we wanted to dig into: Salt and Sugar.

We tapped WellnessFX’s Medical Director, Dr. Murdoc Khaleghi, to share some insight on both topics to dive into this short FAQ.

Which of these vices has a greater impact on my health/nutrition, and why?

“Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as picking one and eliminating the other, as both are ever present in our lives and it is about managing the amounts of both. In addition, our genetics influence our sensitivity to and how we metabolize sugar, and therefore how harmful sugar may be varies by the individual.”

Because health is not one size fits all, let’s visit the possible harmful effects of sugar and salt.

What Does Sugar Do to My Body?

All sugars, regardless of how they are labeled (i.e. white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, evaporated cane sugar, and brown sugar, etc), have similar effect on the body in raising blood sugar levels causing the production of insulin, leading to:

  • Weight gain: Insulin is the body’s primary regulator of fat metabolism.  When insulin levels go up, we store fat. When insulin levels fall, we use fat for fuel. In addition to promoting fat storage shortly after a meal, over time, eating an excess of sugar as well as increased body fat can cause the body to become more resistant to insulin, causing an increase in insulin production, which results in storing more fat.  Even blood levels of fat, known as Triglycerides, which can contribute to heart disease and stroke, can increase due to sugar intake.
  • Inflammation: Sugar can contribute to inflammation, a.k.a. the body’s response to internal damage. Too much inflammation can contribute to cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia, and many other diseases. The body’s level of inflammation can be an indicator of health and be associated with risk for a host of chronic diseases. While there are a few ways to test for inflammation, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) is one of the best indicators.

Read more about sugar in “Sugar and Your Body: Where It’s Hiding, What It’s Doing, and How You Can Cut Back.”

What Does Salt Do to My Body?

For most healthy people a moderate amount of salt is easily processed, and actually required by, the body, while excess amounts may contribute to long-term health issues.

“While the effects of sugar are becoming increasingly understood, how salt affects our health is more debated,” says Dr. Khaleghi. “Excess salt in our diet can lead to greater fluid retention by our body.  If one of our organs that helps process this fluid, such as our heart or kidneys, is dysfunctional that may put greater strain on those organs. Some argue that the greater fluid retention can contribute to higher blood pressure that can contribute to cardiovascular and other diseases.”

To read more about your electrolytes, check out this post in our biomarker series.

How WellnessFX Can Help

The most accurate way to understand how nutrition, lifestyle and exercise affect your long-term health is through testing your blood for levels of markers such as what we’ve mentioned above – electrolytes, fasting blood sugar, average blood sugar over the preceding few months (HbA1c), insulin, fats such as Triglycerides, and inflammation (hs-crp).

Regularly testing your biomarkers will give you insight into other risk factors you need to know about for preventing chronic diseases listed above, such as heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic disorders.

We recommend getting tested every 4 months because it takes 120 days to completely recycle the body’s entire blood cell supply.

Get a Blood Test

The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.